Attendees at the day-two keynote session at NBAA-BACE heard from a group of trailblazers in aviation, including the first female Air Force fighter pilot and an Uber executive. The session was opened by NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, who recognized the members of the 2019 class of NBAA’s Business Aviation Top 40 Under 40 attending the morning session, as well as a handful of the successful graduates of NBAA’s certified aviation manager program.
Leading the group of four keynote speakers was Barrington Irving. The Jamaican-born pilot and founder of the Flying Classroom, who at 23 became the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the world solo, was raised in inner-city Miami. As a young adult, he believed football was going to be his way out of poverty and to success as an adult.
That was until a chance encounter with another Jamaican-born man who was an airline pilot. “And he asked me one pivotal question,” Irving said. “He said, ‘Hey son have you ever thought about becoming a pilot?’” Irving told the man he didn’t think he was smart enough. Still, impressed by the man’s airline uniform and the Lincoln Navigator he was driving, he asked what kind of money pilots made. “After he told me how much money he made, I took an interest in aviation,” Irving said to the audience’s laughter.
Major General Jeannie Leavitt also detailed her path in aviation to the NBAA audience. It was about three months after she graduated at the top of her Air Force flight school class that the rules were changed permitting women to serve in combat.
Top graduates were normally allowed to pick their pilot job assignment, but because she was a woman, she was advised not to request to fly fighters, bombers, or special operations because she “would forever be labeled a troublemaker and it would ruin [her] career,” Leavitt said. “I went to them and I said, ‘Look, I have to ask. I know the answer is going to be no, but I also know [the rules are] going to change at some point. And I don’t want to have a regret to say I always wanted to fly a fighter and have people say, 'Did you ever ask?’”
She then became the Air Force’s first female combat pilot, flying an F-15E Strike Eagle and serving combat tours, including in Afghanistan.
Attendees also heard from Yves Rossy, the first man to fly with a jet-propelled wearable wing, and Eric Allison, CEO of Uber Elevate, the ride-sharing company that’s working to build out a network of autonomously piloted eVTOLs.